Knicks

Schmeelk: Bargnani Must Prove Knicks Risk Is Worthwhile

Knicks Are Too Quick To Trade Away First Round Picks
Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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Yesterday the Knicks agreed in principle on a trade that would send Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, their 2016 first round pick and two second rounders (The Thunder’s second round pick in 2014 and the Knicks second rounder in 2017) to the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani. Another player like Quentin Richardson might have to be included on a sign and trade to complete it, but the parameters are expected to remain similar.

I agree with the general consensus that the Knicks are often too quick to trade away first round picks, since that is the best way for a team to acquire cheap assets that can improve. Picks are one of the most valuable NBA assets. Even if the pick is at the end of the first round, the player or selection can still be very valuable as a player (Iman Shumpert) or as a trade trip to obtain an impact player down the road. Now with the Knicks no longer having a first round pick in 2014 and 2016, the next pick they could possibly include in a trade is 2018. Who needs flexibility right?

They’ve also traded all their second round picks through 2017. In other words, the Knicks keep trading away future assets that will make the team competitive in the long term. That’s bad news, but it isn’t fair to look at the trade in the context of the team’s other moves and overall standing. It needs to be looked at in a vacuum. There is always the chance they can reacquire picks later as well.

It is true the Knicks are taking a toxic asset in Andrea Bargnani, someone who the Raptors have been shopping for years. But isn’t the combination of Marcus Camby and Steve Novak just as toxic? One could argue having that combination of players is even worse, since Novak is signed through 2016, while Bargnani’s deal is up in two seasons. The Knicks are set up even better for cap space in the summer of 2015. The fact Bargnani’s deal is for a few million more (21 million over the next 2 years plus a trade kicker) than what the Knicks send to Toronto (18.5 million combined) is irrelevant considering the Knicks cap situation. The Knicks have the edge in the salary dump department with Novak’s longer deal.

The Knicks won the trade in terms of contracts and they also got the more talented player. Camby and Novak were  useless to them last season and have little hope of improving. But what are the Knicks getting in Andrea Bargnani? He was injury prone the last two years, playing just 66 games. He was absolutely brutal last year when he shot under 40% and just 31% from behind the arc before a shooting elbow injury. If that is the player the Knicks are getting, then this trade is a disaster.

Backing up just one season to 2011-2012, however, Bargnani was a much better player. His three point shooting was still bad (29%) and his field goal percentage not much better (43%) but he averaged five and a half free throws a game and 19.5 points per game. The bad? He only grabbed five and half boards and had more turnovers than assists. He was an improved defender, which was part of the reason his PER was 18, which isn’t spectacular but put him ahead of players like Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, David West, Andre Igoudala and Monta Ellis. Bargnani was even better offensively in 2010-2011, averaging more than 21 points per game on 45% shooting and 34% from behind the arc. Bargnani is just 28 this year. Is it out of the question for him to repeat that season? Last year counts and it was disturbing, but a return to his numbers from 2010-2012 would give the Knicks a real player.

Does Bargnani fit what the Knicks need? If Chris Copeland was likely to remain a Knick, Bargnani’s skill set would be redundant, but it seems he will be going elsewhere. It frees up the Knicks mini-mid level to use elsewhere. Amar’e Stoudemire is the backup big man right now, and he can’t be depended on to give the Knicks any reliable minutes. Bargnani isn’t the catch and shoot three point shooter everyone makes him out to be. He shot just 30% from three the last two seasons, while averaging more than five free throws per game from 2010-2012. He can create his own shot.

If Bargnani starts it pushes Anthony to the three and creates a defensively challenged forward combination. No one wants that.  Imagine Bargnani and Stoudemire playing together? Utterly defenseless.  Mike Woodson will have to find ways to use his offense and hide his rebounding woes. He still isn’t quite as one dimensional as Steve Novak and Marcus Camby. The Knicks did get slightly more versatile with the trade. The fit, however, certainly isn’t perfect. The Knicks needed to get better defensively this offseason (mostly on the perimeter) and this won’t help matters at all.

So here’s the final question: Was it worth trading a first round pick in 2016 that the Nuggets have the right to swap their pick for (making it unlikely to be any better than the high teens) and two second rounders (the one next year likely to be one of the last in the draft and the other in 2017) to accomplish the following:

-          Improve your salary situation in 2016

-          Dump two useless toxic assets for one that has the chance to be an impact player

-          Take the chance a 28 year old can regain his form from two seasons prior when he seemed on the verge of a breakout season.

I honestly see both arguments. I think the Knicks could have gotten more back for that 2016 first rounder in another trade. The Knicks are taking a risk on a guy that was booed out of Toronto after being the number one pick in the draft. People have questioned his passion, work ethic, and intensity. Maybe a change of scenery helps him. It’s just as likely it doesn’t. If Bargnani is the player he was last year, this was a huge mistake. I don’t  think he has topped out and is done at the age of 28. I’m still not completely convinced that even if he does bounce back, however, his contribution is worthy of a first rounder. It all depends on Bargnani. I remember writing similar things about Eddy Curry. Hopefully the Knicks tied their hopes to a better person this time around.

You can follow me on twitter for everything on the Knicks, NBA free agency, Giants, NFL and everything else New York sports at https://twitter.com/Schmeelk.

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